Top 11 Band Name Origin Stories
“If only God would give me some clear sign!
Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.”
– Woody Allen
- Pink Floyd
In 1963, future Pink Floyd members Roger Waters and Nick Mason went through band names that included the Meggadeaths, the Screaming Abdabs, Leonard’s Lodgers and the Spectrum Five before settling on the Tea Set. Syd Barrett joined the band in 1965 and when they performed at a show with another group named the Tea Set, it was time for a new name.
Barrett, the band‘s creative force at its outset, spotted the names of two bluesmen in the liner notes of a 1962 album by Blind Boy Fuller. Barrett combined the first names of bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council and the band became the Pink Floyd Sound, later shortened to Pink Floyd.
Angus Young and his brother Malcolm founded the Australian hard rock band AC/DC in 1973. Angus, who plays lead guitar, revealed the band name’s origin — and why they adopted those school uniforms — in the California Chronicle.
“The name of the group and the school suit is down to my sister Margaret. We were playing in a Sydney nightclub and needed to call ourselves something quick. When I spotted the letters ‘AC/DC’ on the back of her sewing machine, it sounded best.
“My older brother George, who was a member of the Easybeats, said, ‘You need something people will remember you by.’ I tried different costumes including a Superman suit, a Zorro outfit and once even dressed up as a gorilla. It was Margaret who came up with the school uniform. The hard part was to convince me.”
- Deep Purple
In a 1983 interview with Darker Than Blue, founding member and bassist Nick Simper explained how a 1963 song by Nino Tempo & April Stevens — first released in 1933 — became the inspiration for the name Deep Purple. That tune, it seems, was a favorite of Ritchie Blackmore’s grandmother.
“Ritchie Blackmore had come up with the name Deep Purple but we didn’t like it. Every time you think of the Nino Tempo & April Stevens version, people would associate us with that. We went through a lot of names we’d like to have used; in those days groups used to register names and everything we liked was registered. We finally decided we were going to be called Fire.”
The night before a boat trip to play in Denmark, the band learned that another group was named Fire. Band manager Tony Edwards told a Danish reporter on board that the band’s name was Roundabout.
“Tony Edwards was going, “Oh, they’re Roundabout, Magic Roundabout,” and we’d told him there’s no way we were going to called Roundabout. So we told him we were going to be called Deep Purple – me and Ritchie looked at one another and grinned, but when we saw it in print, in the charts, it was all right, but we were a bit embarrassed by it.”
“Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
“Deep Purple” by Nino Tempo & April Stevens
- Marshall Tucker Band
It’s easy to guess that Marshall Tucker is the leader of South Carolina’s Marshall Tucker Band but Tucker is not a member. It’s the name of a local piano tuner. The band spotted Tucker’s name on a key ring in their rehearsal space.
The real Marshall Tucker has been blind since birth and has the gift of perfect pitch. Tucker told WLTX that the band once rehearsed in a building where he repaired pianos. “They were talking about the name of their band and one of them looked at the tag that the key was fastened to for the building and they took my name off the tag and they looked at it and said, ‘Let’s just name it the Marshall Tucker Band and let’s go eat.'”
- Led Zeppelin
By 1966, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck had left the Yardbirds and were looking for a new project. Page hoped to form a supergroup with Beck and the Who’s Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Page told Ultimate Guitar that Led Zeppelin was planned as the name for that group, not the famous band that Page formed in 1968 with Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham.
“It was a name that Keith Moon had mentioned back then. He was talking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a band called Led Zeppelin?’ And I asked him if we could use the name, because I was gonna be in this band Led Zeppelin with Keith Moon, so was Jeff Beck.”
Of course, Moon, Entwistle and Beck never joined Page to form a new group, although Page, Beck and Moon recorded “Beck’s Bolero” together in 1966. When Led Zeppelin formed two years later, it did not immediately use the moniker.
“When we were playing in Scandinavia we were out there as New Yardbirds, it was a cloak of invisibility really. And even on the first recordings it said ‘New Yardbirds’ on the box because I didn’t want anybody to know what the name of the band was until we really officially unveiled it.”
- Grateful Dead
When the Grateful Dead got together in 1965, they were named the Warlocks. When they thought another band had already claimed the name (they never did find out who), Grateful Dead became their choice. In his autobiography Deal, drummer Bill Kreutzmann explains that Jerry Garcia discovered the name while the band lounged around bassist Phil Lesh’s house.
“Garcia sat on the couch with a giant dictionary and he came across the words, ‘Grateful Dead.’ The words jumped off the page. We were all there, the whole band together, all clustered around the couch. When the phrase ‘Grateful Dead’ came up, everybody went, ‘What?’ We’d just been smoking DMT and those words stuck out.
“There are a few different variations of the ‘grateful dead’ folk tale throughout history, and from different parts of the world, but the essential motif, or common thread, behind them is that there is a traveler who comes across a brutal scene. The villagers refuse to bury some body because they hadn’t paid off their debt. In a tremendous act of good will, the traveler pays the debt for them and continues on their way. Then along comes this spirit, this ghost, and says, ‘I’m the grateful dead and I’d like to reward you for your good deed.'”
- Jethro Tull
British rock band Jethro Tull came together in 1967. Singer/flautist Ian Anderson is the front man, with a cast of great musicians that have included Martin Barre, Dave Pegg and Mick Abrahams. Before they agreed on Jethro Tull, they cycled through names that included Navy Blue, Ian Henderson’s Bag o’ Nails and Candy Coloured Rain.
“Back in February 1968, we had many different names which usually changed every week, since we were so bad that we had to pretend to be some new band in order to get re-booked in the clubs where we aspired to find fame and fortune,” Anderson explained on the Tull website. “Our agent, who had studied History at college, came up with the name Jethro Tull (an eighteenth century English agricultural pioneer who invented the seed drill). That was the band name during the week in which London’s famous Marquee Club offered us the Thursday night residency. So it stuck. Is it too late to change? I thought so.”
- ZZ Top
ZZ Top formed in Houston, Texas in 1969. In his book Rock + Roll Gearhead, singer/guitarist Billy F. Gibbons explains how the band got its name. “At the time, I had an apartment, which, for lack of cash, had nothing on the walls but stolen ‘rainbow’ handbills, easy to get from telephone poles and the ult’ loft decor.
“One day I was sitting there and I noticed how these posters had been tacked up in no particular order, just covering up the walls. I looked, and at the left end of the wall was a B.B. King poster, along toward the right was O.V. Wright, and all the way over at the far end was ZZ Hill. I liked the ZZ part … I liked the King part … but together, no … too much like ‘B.B. King.’ But King is like the Top, so we changed the name of the band … ZZ Top!”
Supertramp formed in 1969 as Daddy but the band soon changed its name to avoid confusion with Daddy Longlegs, a short-lived Haight Ashbury group that moved to the UK and recorded a 1970 LP.
The inspiration for the new name came from the 1908 book The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies. Davies was a legendary hobo who traveled the world by ship, highway and rail. When Davies fell from a train, his foot was crushed and his leg had to amputated below the knee. His account of the accident and lessons learned from life on the road made him a successful writer.
- The Band
By 1964, the members of The Band — Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson — had left Ronnie Hawkins’ backing band, the Hawks. After touring with Bob Dylan in 1965 and ’66, the group moved to a house near Dylan in Woodstock, N.Y. Recordings made in the basement studio were the beginnings of the Music From Big Pink album.
In 1968, Robertson explained in Rolling Stone how the group’s anonymous-sounding name came about. “You know, for one thing, there aren’t many bands around Woodstock and our friends and neighbors just call us the band and that’s the way we think of ourselves. And then, we just don’t think a name means anything. It’s gotten out of hand — the name thing. We don’t want to get into a fixed bag like that.”
- Canned Heat
Canned Heat is the long-running blues-rock band that famously performed at Woodstock in 1969. Their music continues to be heard in TV commercials for Geico Insurance and Amazon Storefronts. The band’s website explains that the name comes “Canned Heat Blues,” a 1928 song by Tommy Johnson about Sterno, which was originally called Sterno Canned Heat.
“Sterno is a cooking fuel that has been used since the turn of the century, and while it was intended to be used for keeping food warm, it was consumed by the early bluesman as a cheap way to get ‘high’ during prohibition. Sterno was originally made from methyl alcohol which, if ingested, the user risked blindness or even death. The contents of the container was strained through slices of bread or a nylon sock to separate the alcohol from the paraffin, and mixed with seltzer or soft drinks. These were desperate times; a tin of Sterno was seven cents as opposed to a quarter for an illegal bottle of wine. In Mississippi, it was subsequently nicknamed ‘Canned Heat.’ Tommy Johnson died of severe alcohol poisoning directly related to his consumption of the product.”
“Let’s Work Together” by Canned Heat
“Canned Heat Blues” by Tommy Johnson